As I sit on the 4-wheeler and watch my husband and my brother disappearing up the sheer rock wall, it occurs to me that I have two options: I can sit here and wait for them to come back and probably get quite bored, or I can go after them. Of course it is possible that I might break my neck rock-climbing, but let us be entertained or die.
This rocky cliff, though steep, does not look as impossible as cliffs are often inclined to do. It has many little ledges and as I climb I find them as useful as they appeared from below. About the time I’ve reached twice my height on this wall, it strikes me that there’s a reason you don’t normally see rock-climbers wearing floor-length skirts and that reason is not because they don’t think they’re pretty. It’s a bit disconcerting when you try to straighten up and discover you can’t because the hem of your dress is wedged firmly beneath the only foot that has found a safe place to stand on. I will just go carefully and it will probably be all right, I decide with the cheery optimism that has likely been the herald of many tragic and foolish accidents.
But when the little sister starts to follow my upward climb I do feel pangs of worry. True, she is probably more suited to rock-climbing than I am; she is as tall as me and far more wiry, and her dress is slightly shorter. But she is my little sister for all that, and if she gets scared and stuck my own lack of confidence will make me sad help for her.
Somewhere in the back of my mind is an uncomfortable fact: what goes up must come down. I don’t fancy backing down that rock wall. So, like any sensible little lady would do, I keep on climbing and making the return journey even longer.
After a bit we come to a bench of sorts. It’s still too steep to stop comfortably but at least there are trees and plants growing here. They are helpful to grab onto except when they turn out to resent being treated so and jab thorns into your hands for revenge.
Here it is that I finally catch sight of the husband, which comforts me. He nicely pauses and suggests paths that might be easier for my feet to travel. The cliff has given way to dirt and loose rocks and though that might sound safer and easier, it isn’t at all. When your feet don’t necessarily stay where you put them, you might find yourself descending the mountain much faster than you’ve any desire to do.
The slope is stair-like enough that it always seems like the top is just a little farther on, but when you get there you find still another summit a little way ahead. This is the sort of mountain that tricks you into climbing much higher than you actually meant to. Eventually we do come to something you could call a top; we can’t keep going straight or we’ll plummet into the rocky gorge.
I hoped the view of the waterfall would be magnificent from here so that I would have a reasonable-sounding excuse for climbing so recklessly, but I am disappointed. We are too high above the water and the angle is wrong. From here it might just be a wild mountain stream. I take a picture anyway but I must confess the thing looks better from the bottom.
The brother has moved across the treacherous slope and says he’s going over to the mine ruins and he’ll climb down that way, believing it to be an easier path than descending the cliff. That sounds perfectly reasonable, so we try to follow.
Have you ever walked across the worn-down remains of a rockslide? I advise it. It really gets the blood moving when you find yourself sliding down towards certain doom with nothing to grab onto. The husband and the brother have their own method: they just keep walking. Sure, they slide down, but they started high enough and move across fast enough that they end up where they want to be anyway.
The sister and I don’t possess that kind of nerve just now. We creep and slip and slide, hanging onto bushes and plants until we run out of them. Then we find old iron rails wedged into the mountainside which we use to brace ourselves, though it is still a little nerve-wracking to lunge across the spaces between them. Bless those miners for not cleaning up after themselves.
When we reach the mine we don’t find it to be the simple salvation I hoped for. From a distance it looked like enormous concrete steps, but we’re not giants of the necessary size to use it as such. Each individual step is taller than any of us and we don’t dare jump down them because we’d likely end up trapped or with broken bones or both. Most of the layers are divided into concrete rooms; some of them don’t seem to have any exit, some of the floors are crumbling away into the level below, and some don’t have any floors at all.
So we decide to go down along the outside. By dint of hanging tightly onto the steel cables we find trailing about (again, bless the miners) and accepting that sliding is part of the journey, we manage to find paths that don’t kill us even if they do leave my hands black and burning.
It’s rather fun actually, I decide as we near the bottom, filthy and tired and aching. Of course about as soon as I decide that I slip, twist my ankle, and slide the rest of the way down. But it’s not far and I’m not hurt, just startled and extra dirty.
“This is an adventure,” I say to the husband, and he looks amused. Likely things do not seem so adventurous when you are big and brave and don’t feel like you are literally holding your life in your hands. There are advantages in being a small lady. And if nothing is going to show up and make me risk my life in trying to escape it, I shall just have to escape at random intervals for fun.